How internet innovation could sound the death knell for trolls and pedlars of fake news

I am reprinting this article by an Irish academic because it not only finds a way of dealing with major providers like Facebook and Google harvesting personal data for financial gain but could help stop anonymous attacks on people and organisations by spreading hate and fake news.

It has struck me for some time that some of the most vile attacks on people – whether on anti semitism,or directed at survivors of child sexual abuse, on Brexit or the 50s born women courageously fighting for a pension come from anonymous accounts which can’t be easily verified.

This proposes a new way of identifying people before they can get on the internet without the whole system being controlled by the state.

It would stop attempts by people – particularly by those who support paedophiles and regularly abuse child sex survivors on line – being able to hide behind anonymous Twitter handles or claim websites they run are not their responsibility.

And it would make it much easier for the police and other regulatory authorities to identify people behind these attacks and prosecute if necessary. It is an interesting read.

Four ways blockchain could make the internet safer, fairer and more creative

Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock

Hitesh Tewari, Trinity College Dublin

The internet is unique in that it has no central control, administration or authority. It has given everyone with access to it a platform to express their views and exchange ideas with others instantaneously. But in recent years, internet services such as search engines and social media platforms have increasingly been provided by a small number of very large tech firms.

On the face of it, companies such as Google and Facebook claim to provide a free service to all their users. But in practice, they harvest huge amounts of personal data and sell it on to others for profit. They’re able to do this every time you log into social media, ask a question on a search engine or store files on a cloud service. The internet is slowly turning into something like the current financial system, which centrally monitors all transactions and uses that data to predict what people will buy in future.

This type of monitoring has huge implications for the privacy of ordinary people around the world. The digital currency Bitcoin, which surfaced on the internet in 2008, sought to break the influence that large, private bodies have over what we do online. The researchers had finally solved one of the biggest concerns with digital currencies – that they need central control by the companies that operate them, in the same way traditional currencies are controlled by a bank.

Bitcoin was the first application of a blockchain, but the technology shouldn’t stop there. AnnaGarmatiy/Shutterstock

The core idea behind the Bitcoin system is to make all the participants in the system, collectively, the bank. To do this, blockchains are used. Blockchains are distributed, tamper-proof ledgers, which can record every transaction made within a network. The ledger is distributed in the sense that a synchronised copy of the blockchain is maintained by each of the participants in the network, and tamper-proof in the sense that each of the transactions in the ledger is locked into place using a strong encrypting technique called hashing.

More than a decade since this technology emerged, we’re still only beginning to scratch the surface of its potential. People researching it may have overlooked one of its most useful applications – making the internet better for everyone who uses it.

Help stamp out hate

In order to use services on the internet such as social media, email and cloud data storage, people need to authenticate themselves to the service provider. The way to do this at the moment is to come up with a username and password and register an account with the provider. But at the moment, there’s no way to verify the user’s identity. Anyone can create an account on platforms like Facebook and use it to spread fake news and hatred, without fear of ever being identified and caught.


Read more: Now there’s a game you can play to ‘vaccinate’ yourself against fake news


Our idea is to issue each citizen with a digital certificate by first verifying their identity. An organisation like your workplace, university or school knows your identity and is in a position to issue you with a certificate. If other organisations do the same for their members, we could put these certificates on a publicly accessible blockchain and create a global protected record of every internet user’s identity.

Since there’d be a means for identifying users with their digital certificate, social media accounts could be linked to real people. A school could create social media groups which could only be accessed if a student had a certificate issued to them by the school, preventing the group being infiltrated by outsiders.

Never forget a password again

A user could ask for a one-time password (OTP) for Facebook by clicking an icon on their mobile phone. Facebook would then look up the user’s digital certificate on the blockchain and return an OPT to their phone. The OTP will be encrypted so that it cannot be seen by anyone else apart from the intended recipient. The user would then login to the service using their username and the OTP, thereby eliminating the need to remember passwords. The OTP changes with each login and is delivered encrypted to your phone, so it’s much more difficult to guess or steal a password.

Vote with your phone

People are often too busy or reluctant to go to a polling station on voting days. An internet voting system could change that. Digital currencies like Zerocash are fully anonymous and can be traced on the blockchain, giving it the basic ingredients for a voting system. Anyone can examine the blockchain and confirm that a particular token has been transferred between two parties without revealing their identities.

Blockchain could ensure more people are able to vote. TarikVision/Shutterstock

Each candidate could be given a digital wallet and each eligible voter given a token. Voters cast their token into the wallet of their preferred candidate using their mobile phone. If the total number of tokens in the wallets is less than or equal to the number issued, then you have a valid poll and the candidate with the most tokens is declared the winner.

No more tech companies selling your data

People use search engines everyday, but this allows companies like Google to gather trends, create profiles and sell this valuable information to marketing companies. If internet users were to use a digital currency to make a micropayment – perhaps one-hundredth of a cent – for each search query that they perform, there would be less incentive for a search company to sell their personal data. Even if someone performed a hundred search queries per day they would end up paying only one cent – a small price to pay for one’s privacy.

Blockchain technology started as a means for making online transactions anonymous, but it would be shame for it to stop there. The more researchers like me think about its potential, the more exciting possibilities emerge.

Hitesh Tewari, Assistant Professor in the School of Computer Science and Statistics, Trinity College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Take time to smell the roses: Bulgarians love bomb London to counter British hate media

Bulgarians Soho square

Bulgarians after completing the planting of the damascene roses in Golden Square Soho in London Pic credits: Boyko Boev

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The Bulgarians have not had a good press -particularly in the  Sun, Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

The Sun sent a reporter to Sofia to portray them as rushing to  hand out Britain just to claim benefits. The Daily Mail quoted a survey by a gambling company saying Bulgarians were the laziest people in Europe. The Daily Mail and The Telegraph have repeatedly highlighted that Britain is being flooded with them under EU rules.

Yet very little is known about the Bulgarians in Britain..until now. Bulgarian academics at Warwick University and the University of Florida  have carried out a detailed survey of  151 Bulgarians living and working in London for a report which has gone to Sadiq Khan, the London mayor. It is not a representative survey but it is full of insights.

And it coincided with a remarkable gesture by the Bulgarians – who have planted their national floral pride – the Rosa Damascena –  the perfumed rose grown for centuries in Bulgaria -in Golden Square, Soho – re-enacting  a gift to London  from Sofia 95 years ago-in 1923.

The report says: “After 2013, this community was caught unwittingly in the crossfire of an especially heated immigration debate around Brexit, feeding off of public discontent and strong activity of the opposition. Bulgarians and Romanians have been collectively sneered with reference to perceived combination of cultural and social traits. This form of bias is still highly discriminatory, even if not directly versed in common understandings of racism (of quasi-biological labels and insult).”

Bulgarians planting roses

Bulgarians planting the roses

What the survey did was examine groups of Bulgarians living in London from their 20s to their 50s and 60s. One fact that shows the media coverage suggesting Bulgarians are here to claim benefits is completely refuted. Just four were out of work.

The second suggestion that Bulgarians are lazy gets equal short shift – it turns out one of the favourite pastimes of Bulgarians in the capital – whether 20 or 50 – is going to the gym. Hardly couch potatoes then.

And a lot are highly educated with university degrees or high school diplomas – they are not always able to get jobs suitable to their qualifications.

Highly educated women were most affected  “Many work as housekeepers, babysitters, care providers and “personal assistants”, says the report.

But younger Bulgarians were getting jobs suitable for their qualifications. These included marketing or public relations coordinator, accountant, sales representative, teacher, programmer, as well as jobs requiring manual labour, such as a cook, car-mechanic, construction worker, barman, and stage worker in the theatre.

Living in London also changed the attitude of some Bulgarians Those in their 30s said  that their new life in London has changed them for the better, and that they have become more ‘tolerant towards diversity,’ ‘patient,’ ‘more open’, ‘exposed to more travel,’ ‘walking more often than earlier in Bulgaria’ and visiting more cultural events,

The report added: “there are also statements indicative of closing socially, due to extremely busy schedules: ‘I am becoming more productive due to the quick pace of life, but also more mindful of my private time, which is a limited resource.’

The report does pick up damage done by right wing media coverage which meant that many were reluctant to work outside London because they thought the rest of Britain would be more intolerant about them being there.

The report also says the majority were happy living London despite it being more stressful than their native country.  One recommendation  to the London  mayor is that London helps ,particularly older Bulgarians, to become more fluent in English by laying on language courses. This would help the older generation of Bulgarians here become more integrated than they are.

There is a 11 minute video from Warwick University academic Maria Koinova which gives the background to the study.